Political Promise

Gordon Brown laid the first stones in the road of his post-Prime Ministerial career during a visit to Uganda

In Michael Indian on August 2, 2010 at 10:19 am

By Mike Indian

Against the backdrop of the African Union Summit, Mr Brown spoke about the potential for development in the continent to move it towards being a new engine of global economic growth alongside the other power houses of the world.

Although it is only three months since the Coalition took office, already the world of the Brown government feels dim and hazy. In part, this is due to the truly momentous events that blasted the cobwebs hanging around British politics from the last few years. The 2010 General Election may not jumpstarted the public’s political engine, but it certainly gave it a firm nudge. On the other side though, this sensation of remoteness has been amplified by the noticeable absence of the man who this time last year was fighting for political survival.

Repeated earlier this year, Michael Cockerell’s brilliant documentary into the lives of no. 10’s occupants after office opened speculation of Gordon Brown’s legacy in my mind. Cockerell’s examination of Tony Blair was all to appropriate of this most theatrical of Prime Ministers. For Blair, the fear of the reputation of the Iraq War and a drive to leave a positive domestic mark dogged his last years in office. Indeed, some will remember the last question of his final PMQs came from Ian Paisley and praised the outgoing Prime Minister as the man who had done so much to bring peace to Northern Ireland. Aside from serving as a not too subtle reminder of domestic successes (rather than foreign policy failures) this moment played to the performer in Blair, giving him the kind of send off he wanted. And where is he now? He is eking out a living as the international peacemaker and benefactor. When he stepping back into arena of UK politics during the election campaign this year, Tony Blair’s tan and American twang signalled a man who wants to have as little as possible to do with us.

What of Gordon Brown? Unlike his fellow New Labour lynchpin, he has elected to keep his feet firmly in backbench politics. Although he honed his skills championing grassroots issues such as cleaners’ pay at Edinburgh University, Brown’s time in the Commons has rarely seen him outside of topflight politics. He may revel away for the old ground and in meeting his promise to reward the support of his constituents.

Either way, Gordon Brown the Back-Bencher has been happy to sink into the depths of anonymity for the last few months, whilst the dust from the Coalition’s whirlwind romance continues to sweep through the British political system. In contrast to Blair’s graceful leap onto the centre of the international stage as Middle East peace envoy, the Clunking Fist has kept his head down.

Yet, as much as he might hate to hear it, the niche Gordon Brown is seeking to carve out is not very different from the ground Tony Blair sought to break upon his departure from office. Both men have looked to global affairs for purpose after office, a fitting setting for both of them. In the interview he gave in Uganda, Brown spoke of an African century for development and his drive to see that the world’s poorest people were not left because of an age of lost potential. It is a sentiment that not only fits well with his principles, but also his practices. As a man who reportedly believed it was appropriate to remove most excessive Third World debt, raised aid spending and is infused with a clear social consciousness (albeit one that did not articulate itself into clear policy aims during his premiership) Gordon Brown fits well into the role of champion for Africa.

These seemingly new sentiments are framed against his old lines of sustaining global recovery and a need to drive for universal cooperation in pursuing. There were no dramatic revelations or barely veiled insults, which his leading Labour colleagues have been mired in since the serialisation of Peter Mandelson’s memoirs and commencement of the Labour Leadership election. Instead, it is idea and academic discussion Gordon Brown wishes to focus on, a fact reflected in the subject of his forthcoming book, the financial crisis.

Some former Prime Ministers have dwelt darkly on the loss of power. Others settled into a life of relaxation with ease. One wrote a book about cricket, and one will spent the rest of his life trying to get his story straight. With one foot on the shores of Britain and the other in international waters, Gordon Brown stands ready to bridge the lowest and highest level of politics in the 21st century. If he can resist looking back, then he has the potential of creating something worthy of the word “legacy.”

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